Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump’s arraignment today has been widely denounced by the US Right as politically motivated and unprecedented. But high officers of the US government, including former vice presidents Aaron Burr and Spiro Agnew, have had to be arraigned before judges. Moreover, in other countries, such as Israel, Germany, France and Portugal, former leaders guilty of corruption have been put on trial and some have been jailed or sentenced to house arrest.
Trump thus joins the ranks of other modern former heads of state who had run-ins with the police. Some of the others have been sentenced to jail time. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert went to jail over corruption charges, and the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is on trial for corruption, as well. The Israeli police don’t kid around. A former president of Germany, Christian Wulff, was tried on corruption charges but acquitted.
The better analogy to Trump, though, is former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (in office 2007-2012). He was involved in several corrupt activities that produced police raids and two trials, in both of which he was found guilty. Since the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels was a way of deceiving the American public on the eve of an election, it was a form of electoral corruption, which is what the French police got Sarkozy on. One allegation was that Sarkozy received undeclared cash from Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune, as part of her bribery campaign to keep from having to pay taxes. Although other members of his government have not entirely been cleared of suspicions of taking Bettencourt money, Sarkozy was investigated and ultimately the case against him was dropped.
During that investigation, almost exactly a decade ago, French police raided Sarkozy’s residence while he was out of the country.
While that investigation petered out, Sarkozy was revealed to be involved in two other pieces of corruption. In March, 2021, Sarkozy was found guilty along with two associates of bribery and influence peddling and sentenced to three years in jail, with two of the years suspended. That case is still being appealed.
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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech on a sidelines of a ceremony held to award Mayor of Calais as Knight of the Legion of Honour in the city hall in Calais, northern France, on September 22, 2021. (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images).
In September, 2021, Sarkozy was found guilty in a second corruption case, of having illegally financed his 2012 presidential campaign and having knowingly spent twice the campaign finance limit of $27.5 million. He and several other members of his administration were implicated in the case. The rallies paid for by the extra illegal funds were coordinated by the Bygmalion communications firm, and some of its employees were also tried. Sarkozy was sentenced to another year in jail, but in the end he was allowed to serve the year under house arrest, and had to wear an electronic monitoring anklet.
So Trump joined Sarkozy, first, in having his home raided by the authorities on suspicion of illegal activity. Trump is suspected of illegally carting home official government documents that should have gone to the National Archives and perhaps some gifts from foreign leaders, which US officials are not allowed to keep. Sometimes those objets d’art go on exhibit in presidential libraries. New evidence has surfaced, at which Special Counsel Jack Smith is looking, that Trump actively obstructed the return of some classified documents.
The Sarkozy case is embarrassing for the United States in that it shows French politics to be far less corrupt than the American. First, we don’t have any campaign finance laws to speak of, courtesy the plutocratic Roberts Court. We even allow wealthy individuals like Trump essentially to buy the presidency and other political offices with their own money if they so desire. Moreover, allegations of campaign finance irregularities have never landed an American president in trouble with the law. The French police went into Sarkozy’s home on a tip in 2012 looking for $50,000 in cash. That is small potatoes over here. Trump’s Save America PAC paid $60,000 to Melania’s hair dresser. I wonder if the Sûreté nationale would consider that an offense worth a raid.